Where did Captcha come from, and how has it evolved over time?

Captchas are nowadays a method of verifying human identity when using websites and services on the Internet. The acronym “Captcha” stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”. But where did Captcha come from, and how has it evolved over time? In this article, we take a look at the history of Captchas.

The origins of captchas

The development of captchas dates back to 1997, when computer scientist Mark D. Lillibridge at Carnegie Mellon University was looking for a solution to combat spam in online forums. He found that traditional captchas, such as distorted letter and number recognition, could be easily circumvented by spammers using optical character recognition software. Lillibridge then developed a new captcha based on images of animals that users had to select to prove their human identity. This captcha system was called “animal species image recognition.”

Development of text-based captchas

In the following years, text-based captchas became more popular because they were simple to implement and easy for most users to solve. These captchas use distorted letters and numbers that the user must manually enter to prove their identity. This method was called the “Reverse Turing Test” because the user had to prove that they were human by performing a task that could not be performed by a machine.

Captcha improvements over time

As captchas became more widespread, attempts by spammers and automated attacks also became more sophisticated. As a result, further improvements have been made over time to increase the effectiveness of captchas. One example is audio-based captchas, which were developed to enable users with visual impairments to solve captchas.

In 2009, reCaptcha was introduced, a captcha system developed by Google. This system used the power of humanity to digitize books by presenting users with captchas that consisted of distorted words and phrases that could not be recognized by optical character recognition software. When a user successfully solved the captcha, the word or phrase was converted into text that was used to digitize books.

In 2014, Google developed a new captcha system called “No Captcha reCaptcha” that requires only a simple click or touch from the user to prove they are human. This system uses advanced technologies like machine learning and user behavior analysis to detect whether the user is actually a human or not.

Read more about what the future of captchas will look like soon here: The future of captchas: How will captchas of the future work?

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